Japan Update #7

Monday, November 27, 1995

Happy Turkey day weekend to all of you back in the US. No turkeys (to eat) over here in Japan. Even if we could find one, we would have no way to cook it. Ovens are not that big.

We went to a company dinner and afterwards found that we had a flat tire. I did one of my best tube changes with an audience of about ten people. The people we work with definitely think we are crazy to be riding the bike during this "cold" weather. One of them actually asked Lindy, "Do you not like cars?" Actually, since we have been in Japan we have put more "kilometerage" on the Santana than on our car.

One of our coworkers told me the story of how a friend of his mothers asked if there were gaijin (foreigners) where he works. He said yes. She then asked if there were henna gaijin (strange foreigners) there. He asked what kind of "henna" and she described this strange bike with two gaijin that she sees every morning! He told her that he knew the people (he didn't comment to me about the "henna" part!). Small world though, we are noticed!

During the past two weeks we went on one long and beautiful ride. The first part of the ride was through what we now call "typical Japan". We had laid out a route that would have us duplicating only a few sections of roads on the way back. There was a north-south ridge that we had to cross on the outbound to get to the Tenryu River.

We drove to the start of the ride (the plant manager's house) and left the car there. We had been invited to a Sumo party for that day and so this way we could just ride back to his house and save some time. For those who are wondering, a Sumo party is like a superbowl party, except that the big guys who push and shove each other are not on teams.

We started out going up a mild grade for 5km (the return would be along the same section, a nice finish) and then went down a quick hill. And then up a significant hill. After that there were great rolling roads until the top of the ridge we had to go down. We followed our map perfectly and got to the switchback road down and it wasn't there! The road went about ten meters and just ended with an abutment. Apparently this road has not existed for some time. So, we looked at our maps and decided to go for the next switchback south, though we were heading north. We got to that road and stopped. Lindy said "this can't be it, it's just a path in the woods" I said it was the road, so she got off and explored by foot. She confirmed it was a road, but full of short switchbacks, dirt and gravel. Since we are strictly "roadies" we decided that this was not the time (nor place) to learn how to be a mountain biking tandem team. We went two more switchbacks south until we found a paved road. It had signs forbidding trucks and buses, but no signs forbidding stretch bikes! It was quick, with sharp turns, but "dai jobu desu" (no problem). We came out of the little road, onto the main road, and into a parade of some sort. Needless to say, we stole some of the attention away from the procession.

We went up along the river through the populated section and it was nice but nothing great. We then got to the city for which the river was named, Tenryu shi, and the population disappeared. It was as if it was decreed that there would be no densely populated areas north of Tenryu. A little north of the town there was a tunnel that cut off a bit of a hill. What was special about this tunnel was that the entrance was painted to look like a fallen tree. It appeared that you were riding into the trunk of a tree from the roots! Quite spectacular.

After we crossed the river, the scenery turned beautiful with steep hillsides coming down to the river. There was a road on either side, so as per our plan, we went up the west side. It had some decent climbs, but the views up and down the river were worth it. We got to a small town up the river that had a farmers market, and we got some yakatori for lunch. We continued upriver to the next town and dam. Each of these towns along the river had a dam associated with it. At this point we were planning to turn around. Our map showed a road down next to the river going to a bridge, but all we could see was the main road going into a long tunnel. We got off the bike and started to walk along a path, looking down toward the road that we though we should be on. Down was the operative word. About 50 meters! We thought about trying to take the Sovereign down the steps, but thought that would be unreasonable. We remembered that at the last little bridge, about 0.5 km back, there was a road going down to the stream. It turned out to be connected to the road we wanted. We went down to river level, went about 0.5km, and then climbed back up so we could cross the river over the dam. At the dam we saw that there was an entrance and exit to the tunnel that we hadn't gone into. I had never seen that before, a "highway" interchange underground.

The ride south on the other side of the river was just as beautiful, but somewhat less hilly. There were many places along both sides of the river where it seemed more like a lake with the hills as its banks. You could not see where the river came in or left, just surrounded by mountains. Our big fear from the ride up was unfounded. We had seen a large, steep set of switchbacks across the river and we were afraid that we were going to have to go up them. Fortunately not. Close up they looked even worse!

We continued down river, oohing and aahing as we went. The advantage of a ride like this is that the return is a net downhill, just what you need as you get tired. We stopped for ice cream in Tenryu shi, and then worked hard to get back while we still had good daylight, and some warmth from the sun. This was our first metric century since we've been here in Japan. Probably our first one since July!

Next time we do this ride we will drive the bike to Tenryu and then start the ride form there. That will allow us to go further up the river. Looking at the maps it seems that we could ride up there for days having good road(s) and without excessive climb. We are definitely starting to look at the topo maps to pick out other river routes that seem to be doable.

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